'There are many kinds of life,' says Spike, mildly. 'Humans always assumed that theirs was the only kind that mattered. That's how you destroyed your planet.'
'Don't blame me,' said Pink. 'I didn't destroy it.'
'But you have a second chance. Maybe this time...'
The first sentence of the novel sets the tone: This new world weighs a yatto-gram.
When I started reading The Stone Gods, I have to admit that I was disappointed. It's science fiction. And I'm not a big fan of science fiction. Of course, some scifi novels are fascinating must-reads (2001: A Space Odyssey!), but I don't generally get any kicks out of the futuristic utopia/dystopia mythologies with robots and other technological wonders. But as I continued reading the novel - somewhat reluctantly - I was soon swept away. It wasn't just robots and dystopia - there was something intensely, deeply human about the book.
Jeanette Winterson isn't really known as a scifi novelist. Probably her best-known novel is Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit, an autobiographical novel about a girl growing up and coming to terms with her sexual identity in a conservative Christian environment.
The Stone Gods is divided into several parts, different worlds and different times. Yet these worlds are not as separate as they would initially seem, but they are strangely related, interconnected. In the first part, the people living on Orbus, a near-inhospitable planet strangely resembling our Earth, have finally discovered a new, hospitable planet that they (or the lucky ones) may relocate to and "start again".
A pioneering mission is sent to the new home-to-be, Planet Blue, to kill off the dinosaurs and establish a colony. The pioneers include Billie Crusoe (intertextuality!) from Enhancement Services; Pink, a new-age human who has been "Fixed" so that she will remain twenty-something-years-old forever; and the pinnacle of technology: an evolving robot, or Robo sapiens, nicknamed Spike. Despite their best intentions, recolonization goes horribly wrong...
But as it says in the novel: This is one story. There will be another.
The novel juxtaposes different types of colonization, different ways to be in-between worlds, different methods to destroy the place we are living in. An Englishman, Billy, is shipwrecked onto Easter Island from Captain Cook's ship. He witnesses the inhabitants of the island cut down all their trees and construct massive idols to worship.
Then - a new age - the world is living in Post-3 War, another war that should never have happened. People realize that human emotions and individualism have caused all the problems in the world. In an effort to avoid new wars and conflicts, a new kind of robot is constructed: a robot that can think for itself and evolve, but still remain objective and make sensible decisions -not motivated by feelings or personal opinions. The robot, nicknamed Spike, is trained by Billie. Sound familiar?
Billie travels on the Tube one night and discovers an old manuscript, titled The Stone Gods, on a seat. What Billie reads and what she thinks sounds strangely familiar: A love story, that's what it is - maybe about aliens. I hate science fiction.
Metafiction is always beautifully mind-blowing when it is well-written. And science fiction that is not simply a tribute to the wonders of technology and space/time travel is refreshing. As Jeanette Winterson writes on her official site: "People say to me 'so is the Stone Gods science fiction?' Well, it is fiction, and it has science in it, and it is set (mostly) in the future, but the labels are meaningless. [...] There are books worth reading and books not worth reading. That's all."
The Stone Gods is a philosophical manifest of free love and a tribute to and a critique of humanity. It is easily one of the best books I've read this year - so definitely in the worth-reading category!
Jeanette Winterson: The Stone Gods. Hamish Hamilton. 2007.
JeanetteWinterson.com: The Stone Gods
The Guardian review by Ursula K. Le Guin: The Stone Gods
Wikipedia: Jeanette Winterson